Seeing very far away and hitting closer to home

Nancy ShuteThe big science news of this issue, and so far this year, is the first-ever view of a black hole, announced at 9:07 a.m. April 10 by the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration, an international effort that linked radio telescopes around the globe to create a planet-sized “camera.” This issue of Science News went to press that very afternoon, and we had a marvelous time making sure the news made it in the magazine before we put it to bed. For more black hole news, including a timeline and a video featuring astronomy writer Lisa Grossman and physics writer Emily Conover, check out our website at

But we also examine pressing questions much closer to home in this issue. Social sciences writer Sujata Gupta became intrigued by the question of what can be done to help young children with anxiety after she wrote a news article on how mental health problems in preschool often carry over into adulthood (SN Online: 2/3/19). She was eager to find out why.

There’s actually quite a bit of research on mood disorders in the very young, despite the fact that until just a few decades ago it was commonly thought that small children were too immature to have such problems. The next question is whether it’s appropriate to treat anxiety in this age group, and if so, which treatments work best. Because the brain is so malleable in young children, researchers hypothesize that treating anxiety early on will make it less likely that an anxious child will grow up to be an anxious adult.

Gupta knew that to give readers a clear sense of how anxiety disorders affect children, she would have to go beyond interviewing researchers; she had to talk with families. “That was the most challenging part,” she says. Researchers are barred from sharing the names of study participants without their permission, and since there’s still stigma surrounding mental health, people can be reluctant to go public. That’s particularly true in the age of the internet, when Googling a person’s name can surface articles written years earlier.

But Gupta found a family. One of the researchers she interviewed for the news article connected her with Kate Fitzgerald, a child psychiatrist at the University of Michigan who runs a research program called Camp Kid Power for children with anxiety. Fitzgerald connected Gupta with Rachel, whose young daughter Molly had participated in the camp.

To protect her daughter’s privacy, Rachel asked us not to use the family’s last name. And while our policy is to fully identify sources in the interest of accountability and transparency, we decided that in this case, protecting a child’s sensitive health information justified omitting the last name. That’s not a decision we take lightly; when we do make that call, we will let our readers know why.

In my years as a journalist, I’ve found many people willing to share deeply personal health information with me and by extension with the world. They did so because they believed, as I do, that people’s stories are powerful tools that can help us become more informed, empathetic citizens. I am grateful to every single one of them.

Nancy Shute is editor in chief of Science News Media Group. Previously, she was an editor at NPR and US News & World Report, and a contributor to National Geographic and Scientific American. She is a past president of the National Association of Science Writers.

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